When Ed and Rachel Barnhart retired in 2004, the intrepid RVers hooked up their Alfa Gold fifth wheel on a mission to see all that God created and man constructed…and find the best pizza in the USA. From the beaches of Seattle, Ed and Rachel set their sights on Maine. From there they would turn south toward the sunshine, only to be greeted by the worst Mother Nature had unleashed in decades. Undaunted, the Barnharts headed off into the sunset, through the southwest and across the Rio Grande to the shores of Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. From sea to shining sea and back again, all in their first year exploring the country they dubbed the “Land of Awes.” In Chapter 22 Ed and Rachel observe the aftermath of a hurricane, learn from history and enjoy the simple pleasures of peace and friendship.
We intended to head out of town before the wrath of Hurricane Ivan made it north into Virginia, but that was not to be. The day of our planned departure storms ripped through the area in and around Manassas, where we had been the day before, and Haymarket, where we were battened down in bucolic splendor. A dozen tornados were reported in the immediate area; so, rather than run the unpredictable gauntlet, we stayed put. Though we passed a sleepless night on storm watch, gazing out the windows and huddling around weather warnings on TV, we escaped the damage that destroyed several homes, barns and businesses in the immediate area.
It is worth mentioning here that technology played a big part in both our decision to hold the fort and our confidence in moving out the morning after the storm. TV and radio updates kept us well-informed as to the whereabouts of the storms and forecast conditions in the immediate area. Today, a tech-savvy RVer can have both GPS and up to the minute weather reports on his or her Smart Phone. We highly recommend these services. While they do not replace personal vigilance or map-reading ability, these conveniences are must-haves for full timers.
We took our time getting to Winchester, concentrating on keeping it between the lines. The lightning and rains had passed, but the winds were still strong, buffeting the truck and RV alike. Along the way we saw just how fortunate we had been. Trees were uprooted, entire stands ripped to pieces like a book of broken matches. Roofs had been sheared completely off buildings. We passed an abandoned truck trailer, the exterior torn away like the peel of a banana. Scary stuff, motivating utterly sincere prayers of thanks for our own safety.
We arrived in Winchester just before lunch, set up the Alfa, grabbed a bite and headed over to Harper’s Ferry. This picturesque little town at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers played a pivotal role in the events leading up to and during the Civil War.
The town was strategic for three reasons. First, it was the location of several factories that produced interchangeable rifle parts, a definitive technological advantage. Second, it served as a key railroad junction, where lines that ran from Baltimore to Ohio and diagonally across Virginia respectively, converged. Whoever controlled this junction effectively controlled supply lines across much of the eastern front. Third, it housed an arsenal of over 100,000 weapons and accompanying shot and powder, enough arms and ammunition for an army.
Harper’s Ferry also possessed a strong intangible significance. It was here that a failed raid by radical abolitionist John Brown turned heated discourse concerning the subject of slavery into fiery threats of succession. Brown believed that, by seizing the weapons housed at the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal, he could arm Southern slaves and instigate a rebellion. His guerrilla force of about 20 successfully seized several buildings, but was summarily quashed by U.S. Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee. Over the next few years, Lee would capture the town three more times, but do so in the interest of another nation. John Brown was hanged for treason, and those who would not come to his aid while he lived began to write songs declaring him a martyr. Regiments of Federal troops would later sing these anthems as they marched into battle.
Building abolitionist John Brown used as a fort until he was captured and hanged.
Another John, John H. Hall, owned one of the principle arms manufacturers in Harper’s Ferry. It was Hall who, in the 1820’s, pioneered interchangeable parts technology and machined weapons production. Today, visitors can tour a replica of his machine shop and watch a demonstration of the rifle production process, part of what made Harper’s Ferry such a prime strategic target. Much of the rest of the town is now a National Park. Civil War-era buildings have been restored and house museums and interpretive centers.
Historic Harper's Ferry
Our next stop was not to another historical site, but was to visit an old friend. Willa Parks and her late husband, Keith, once lived in Wenatchee. He was Chief Engineer for Alcoa Aluminum until they family relocated to Pennsylvania. The Parks’ son, David, returned “home” to Wenatchee to open his orthodontia practice and, some years later, hired Rachel as his office manager. During her 13 years on the job we had met Willa several times when she came to town to visit her son. Now, on the other side of the country, we shared a meal of home-cooked favorites, a bottle of full-bodied Fielding Hills merlot and a wonderful evening of conversation and fellowship. Reconnecting with long-lost friends is certainly one of our favorite aspects of RV living!
The next day we headed over to Sharpsburg, Maryland to tour the site of the Battle of Antietam. This is one fight that leaves students of history with many questions. What would motivate tens of thousands of young men – average age, 19 – to stand shoulder-to-shoulder less than 20 yards apart and fire at each other? And for what prize? The only geographic significance of the site was the Burnside Bridge, a small span over Antietam Creek, a stream that was, at most, three feet deep. The bridge led to another curiosity of this battle. Union forces repeatedly attempted to cross the bridge, bottlenecking, while Confederate forces picked them off from well-covered elevated positions. All this while the units could have easily forded the creek without even getting their shirts wet. These expressions of dubious bravery and questionable strategy led to the highest single-day casualty count in the war.
One of the most ironic sights on the battlefield is a small Dunker Meeting House near the cornfield where much of the battle took place. Ironic, because the Dunkers were pacifists who had left Europe to escape religious persecution. They were called “Dunkers” because, instead of practicing infant baptism, they baptized only professing believers and did so by immersion. The Dunkers were a simple, industrious and faithful people; and the meetinghouse at Antietam Creek stands as a stark reminder that peace is possible, even in place known renowned mostly for bloodshed.
Dunker Meeting House at Antietam
We carried this small reminder of peace in the midst of the storm with us as we drove back through a countryside that had been ravaged once by the chaos of war and more recently by a natural disaster. We arrived at our campsite near Charlottesville contemplating the power of nature and of the potential of man, when he is ruled by his better angels.
Read previous chapters by selecting one of the links below:
Chapter 22 – After The Storm
Chapter 21 – Roots, Routs & Routes
Chapter 20 – Full Timer Tips
Chapter 19 – Washington D.C. & the Shenandoah Valley
Chapter 18 – Ocean Cities & the Jersey Shore
Chapter 17 – Mystic Seaports & Mysterious Mechanical Failure
Chapter 16 – Thunder Bay & the Lobstah Princess
Chapter 15 – Rock Lobstah? Ayuh, it’s Good
Chapter 14 – Historic Boston, The Commons & Uncommon Pizza
Chapter 13 – Plymouth Rock and Saugus Iron
Chapter 12 – At the Atlantic and Around Cape Cod
Chapter 11 – Marches, Mozart and Mozzarella
Chapter 10 – Loving Life on the Road
Chapter 9 – Picturesque Settings & Police Surveillance
Chapter 8 – Erie Museums and Niagara Mist
Chapter 7 – The Amish and Edison
Chapter 6 – Dutch Treats and Bavarian Festivals
Chapter 5 – Two American Icons – Miller Beer and Chicago Pizza
Chapter 4 – Touring the Twin Cities
Chapter 3 – Discovering Middle America
Chapter 2 – A Trip Around the Sun
Chapter 1 –Pacific in the Rearview, We Wave Goodbye
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